A US president is again choosing to meet the Dalai Lama despite Chinese opposition. BBC News asks why this Tibetan spiritual and political leader is such a popular figure in the West:
To the Chinese government and to many of its people he is an inciter of violence and a defender of a brutal, backward, feudalistic, theocratic society.
But to many politicians and people in the West, the Dalai Lama is a kind of smiling, spiritual and political superhero.
His monastic robes, beaming countenance and squarish, unfashionable glasses are the stuff of a thousand photo opportunities. To some he is in a league of international personalities that contains only one other person – Nelson Mandela.
He is well-known for his contact with Hollywood supporters like Richard Gere and Steven Segal.
Those who have met him describe an intense personal charisma.
There is a “wonderful smiling face, cherubic looks, the infectious laugh” says Alexander Norman, who co-operated with the Dalai Lama on his autobiography as well as several other works after first meeting him in 1988.
It is hard to escape the idea that the Dalai Lama is perceived almost as an avuncular “Santa Claus” figure by some, says Dr Nathan Hill, senior lecturer in Tibetan at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
“He is very photogenic. In the West we like stars. He is an extremely engaging person, and an extremely smart man. I find him extremely savvy politically, very forward looking.”
There are many in the West who are seeking an unthreatening spiritual boost in an age of materialism, suggests Norman, who recently wrote The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama.
“There is a huge desire in the secular West… a hunger for something other than the benefits that modern industrial society can supply.”
Search on Amazon for the Dalai Lama’s books and you see long lists of spiritual and self-help tracts.
“He is unstained by the world [to some readers],” says Dr Hill. “You want to read his books in order to find enlightenment yourself.” …
[continues at BBC News]
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